Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tom Cruise Scientology Weirdness

There are a few videos floating around the net recently, of Tom Cruise doing his Scientology preaching. They're all pretty bizarre, but for the ultimate, go to the Tom Cruise Freedom Medal Award Ceremony page and check out video #4, the one where he's wearing a medal. What do you think? Sometimes reality is weirder than any satire you can imagine.

I've pondered this video for a few days. I can't pinpoint what Cruise says that makes it so creepy. It's less about the words than his overall manner, how it projects such absolute certainty in his righteousness.

I personally try to keep a questioning mind, including the big question: "What am I?" Sincere questioning leads to an honest Don't-Know: I don't know who I am, why I'm here, or what the meaning or purpose of it all is. That Don't-Know is my guide.

The opposite of questioning is absolute faith in one's ideas, opinions, beliefs. It's that blind belief that I see in the eyes of Cruise and the Scientology crowd. People who adopt a belief-system have to fool themselves, by pretending that they know what the meaning and purpose of life is.

A cousin of mine went to UC Berkeley during the social/political turmoil of the 60s. She protested for various causes, probably good ones. Decades later, she'd tell me how wonderful it was to know that she was "on the side of the angels." I'm creeped out by this level of certainty in one's beliefs. People who are certain that they're "on the side of the angels" cause so much suffering. When people think that their ideals are the Ultimate Good... it's a short slide to justifying violence and deception to advance those ideals. We attach too much importance to the belief-system, and not enough to simple, moment-to-moment kindness and decency.

It doesn't matter whether the belief-system is political or religious or whatever. The Scientology people appear so caught up in certainty: that their Truth is supreme, that their group is on the side of the angels. It's literally part of Scientology dogma that anyone who gets in their way is "fair game" to attack.

The precepts of religions and ethical systems tell us to refrain from lying, stealing, and doing violence. We can't take these rules as absolutes. Sometimes we may have to lie or steal to save someone's life; sometimes we may have to kill in order to prevent greater harm.

But precepts such as "don't lie" still have value. Whenever we find ourselves bumping up against the precepts, that's a good occasion to question our motives. If we find ourselves being aggressive or deceitful in service of some Greater Good... it's time to wonder: maybe we've lost our questioning mind, and fallen into the certainty of belief.

Don't-Know is 10,000 times better than belief. Better to try to help people in small, moment-to-moment ways... rather than clinging to grandiose ideas that God and his angels are on your side.

[added 1/28/08: I just found this half-hour BBC program that investigated Scientology last year. The most revealing thing about the show is the paranoid reaction of the Scientology spokesman to any hint of questioning his "religion."]

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

God and Perfect Balance

In the Comments section of the previous blog (re: Ken Wilber), Stephen describes his own course as, "rooted in a concern to criticize and perhaps help redefine Christian tradition."

I myself rarely consider the Judeo-Christian perspective, since I've been more interested in Eastern traditions, particularly Buddhism and Zen, for the last few decades. But I can't help bumping into the Christian-style now and then. I mean, that whole "Christmas" thing we've just passed through is kinda hard to ignore.

I was at a holiday party last month, and people were talking about their feelings about The Season. Some felt the holidays have spiritual significance; others expressed a lack thereof (atheism is more popular and acceptable here in Berkeley than in the rest of the country).

Someone in this discussion had seen me in Buddhist robes, when I'd performed a funeral ceremony. Perhaps based on that, in the midst of this party talk, he asked me, "Stuart, you believe in God, don't you? A Higher Power or something?"

My Zen practice is to attend to each moment as it appears, so I don't carry around canned answers to those Big Questions. I deal with them "on the fly." I generally don't think in terms of God or Higher Power... so I had to ponder a few moments about how I could express my perspective in a language that'd connect with the question and the questioner.

I ended up saying something like this: There are times when I get this sense that all of existence is already in perfect balance, harmony, and resolution. These experiences come only now and then, but they're strong enough to color my life at other times. I sense that there's truth in the perspective of perfect balance, whether or not I'm seeing it at the moment.

That was as honestly as I could communicate it. Though I rarely talk about "God," I realized that someone who says, "God is all-powerful and perfect, and He's taking care of everything," is pointing to a perspective that's not so different from what I had expressed.

Beliefs and ideas don't count for much unless they're put into action. (Thinking that you're an environmentalist is pretty empty, until you actually pick up some litter.) So maybe my sitting Zen is a practice of connecting with the perspective of perfect balance. To sit quietly, doing nothing... is putting into "action" a faith that this moment is already resolved.

In his comment, Stephen mentioned Blaise Pascal. One of the few things I know about Pascal is that he famously said, "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone." Maybe he was referring to the benefit of stopping and being still for a moment, tasting balance and resolution, and letting all things take their own course. (Hell, maybe Pascal meant something entirely different, but that's how it sounded to me.)

None of this means that passivity is better than activity. Sitting still and quietly is a special practice, which can strengthen the habit of accepting what is. Acceptance means there's no need to hold my opinions and push for what I want. "Put down I/my/me" in Zen-language may equate to "Let God take care of everything" in Judeo-Christian language.

It ultimately means that perfect balance and resolution is present in the midst of all activities. It's not an idea, it's the experience of "What are you doing right now?" Efforts and activities don't hinder it... but stopping for a moment and being still allows us to perceive and taste that balance, harmony, and resolution... to get a clearer awareness of what's always there anyway.

One of my big experiences of universal harmony came during a Salvia Divinorum trip. In my mind's eye, I saw all beings, connected to each other, all crawling along a surface, as if struggling to get somewhere, to advance and evolve. And then, my perspective pulled back, and I realized that this surface was actually a globe, and that all this struggle and apparent advancement was really part of a circular motion, around and around. From the wider perspective, all the efforts and struggles and advancements were part of a larger system that was unchanging in its perfect balance.